If you’ve ever watched Bob’s Burgers, you’ve more than likely had a laugh thanks to the superbly punny “Burger of the Day” chalked onto a blackboard in the background of scenes in the restaurant. Though the show uses the background Burgers of the Day as subtle jokes with no real attention drawn to them, these beefy wordplays certainly caught the attention of one fan of the show in a major way. Essentially, they changed his life.
Cole Bowden was developing a craving for honing his culinary craft as a senior in college. While watching episodes of Bob’s Burgers with his roommate, he was struck by an epiphany — burgers are cheap to make (which is pivotal for college cooking) and their versatility allows plenty of room for experimenting. With constant inspiration from the show’s ever-changing “Burger of the Day,” he began chronicling his burger-cooking adventures in a blog called The Bob’s Burger Experiment. The blog’s popularity continued to grow, eventually leading to the Bob’s Burgers cast and crew becoming fans of Bowden’s work themselves. Now, Bowden is venturing into the role of cookbook author for the first time, as he has been summoned to officially write The Bob’s Burgers Cookbook.
When did you start cooking? Have you always been focused on the grill or do you dabble in everything?
Cole Bowden: Growing up, my mom was the head chef – and my job was to stay out of the kitchen. It wasn’t really until college that I started to cook, and by cook I mean heat up food and boil water for pasta. During my junior year, my friends and I started a tradition where we would all get together to cook a big meal once a month. There were two rules: everyone had to cook something and everything had to be from scratch. I think that’s what piqued my interest in cooking – seeing how a meal came together from scratch. Man, I knew nothing back then! Pro tip: Pasta should never be made from all-purpose flour. I learned that one the hard way.
My lack of cooking prowess is sort of what started the blog in the first place. During my senior year, as my roommate and I were binging on Good Eats episodes, I realized that I wanted to learn how to cook. Not just follow recipes and heat things up, but really learn to cook. I needed some sort of platform to help me, something easy to experiment with and try out different flavors and types of cooking. We were watching the first season of Bob’s Burgers when it hit me: Hamburgers! Hamburgers could be dressed up in a million different ways, and best of all they’re cheap! That’s why the blog is called The Bob’s Burger Experiment – it really started as a way to experiment in the kitchen and figure out how to cook.
Was there one particularly punny burger that stuck out to you and inspired the Bob’s Burger Experiment?
CB: The very first burger was the Foot Feta-ish Burger. It seemed all too perfect – I don’t think I’d ever eaten feta on a burger before then.
You say on the blog you “mostly” haven’t made a bad one yet. What were these few exceptions?
CB: Oh there have been some bad ones, but by far the worst has been the Human Polenta-Pede Burger. I got way in over my head with that one. I tried to make my own buns from polenta – an Italian cornmeal porridge. I ended up with heavy, lumpy, thick cornmeal that ruined the otherwise good burgers. I had invited three friends over for that one… and not one of us ate the bun.
Do you ever talk to the food like Bob does? That might be key to cooking the burgers.
CB: Are you suggesting that there are people that don’t talk to their food while they cook? Of course I do.
Did you ever expect to catch the attention of the cast and crew or did you think the blog would only ever be appreciated by big fans of the show?
CB: I never thought the blog would gain any popularity at all. It was just a personal project for fun. Months after I graduated, my college roommate called me and told me that the blog was the top post on one of his favorite subreddits: r/EatSandwiches. The blog’s popularity blew up after that. Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman tweeted about it, which felt amazing.
At the end of one post, I wrote that I was still waiting for the cast to email me so I could make them some burgers. I meant it as a joke, but a couple of days later I got an email from the creator and executive producer of Bob’s Burgers, Loren Bouchard. He told me that he’d been following the blog for a while, but didn’t want to interrupt it. I didn’t believe it was him at first, and never thought that offhanded joke would lead me down this path.
What was it like for you in Boston getting that reception when Loren Bouchard pointed you out and announced the cookbook?
CB: Awesome in every sense of the word. I knew that I had followers on the blog, but hearing the reaction of the crowd was one of the most amazing and humbling experiences I’ve had. When the audience quieted down, Kristen [Schaal] asked me if I had eaten all of those burgers – I couldn’t get words out, I just nodded my head. I don’t think my mouth stopped smiling for days.
Did you have prior aspirations of writing a cookbook or did you just kinda happily fall into this?
CB: Part of me still thinks I’m going to wake up and realize this was all a dream. The blog was just for fun. I never thought it would be popular. I never thought Loren Bouchard would read it. I never thought I’d meet the cast. This is all just a wonderful set of events. The blog started as a silly project in my college apartment!
You seem to be a great example of a positive change in the cookbook industry. It’s no longer just about snobby foodie types and widely-acclaimed chefs — there’s definitely a movement of passionate people who just love to cook and have little more than the backing of dedicated blog followers. Have you noticed this shift at all?
CB: There have always been passionate people who’ve cooked at home, but they had no easy way to share it with the world. The Internet has enabled people to share whatever they want to so easily and it gives them an audience that will cheer them on.
I remember seeing Julie and Julia and wishing that I’d been a follower on that food blog when it was first being written. My friend’s mom is a hobby chef and she kept a blog that combined travel and cooking. I write about punny burgers. What we all have in common is that we started these projects for ourselves – to pursue some passion we had. Our followers want to experience that same pursuit, and fortunately we can share it with them.
Paste: Have you considered Putting Puns Between Buns as an alternate title?
CB: #PunsBetweenBuns is definitely going to be my new burger hashtag.
What’s next after the cookbook comes out? Can you see yourself living the life of Bob Belcher, running a restaurant with your family?
CB: I’d thought about starting a food truck, but quickly realized that the restaurateur lifestyle is not for me. I’ve learned a lot from the Experiment and I’d like to take what I’ve learned and explore foods that aren’t best served in a bun. But don’t worry – I’m never too full for a burger.
Cole Bowden is currently in the writing process of The Bob’s Burgers Cookbook. You can follow his progress and find recipes for his burgers here.
Trevor Courneen is a freelance writer and a contributor to Paste. For more of his interviews, you can check out his podcast, Audible Handshake, here. You can also tweet kindness or criticism to him @TrevorCourneen.